Friends here are easy to come by. It’s something special to have arrived only a few days before, and sit down in a stranger’s house and laugh about this and that, and feel welcome. The people I meet, the regular people, are very curious about how things work in Canada. How it is that we have the life we have, and they have the life they have. Most new people I meet ask about the differences, so I end up reflecting a lot.
One of the biggest differences I tend to bring up is the differences between our laws and social rules, and the laws here and social rules. The best way to explain and witness the differences manifests itself in and around the roads here. Not far from where I’m staying is a main paved road that runs from Mosoriot (the closest town) and Eldoret (the closest city). It’s the only paved road around. The rest of the roads are made of hard packed clay of varying widths, depending on how important they are for the area. Some of these clay roads are wide enough for two way traffic; some are hard pressed to squeeze a car along them safely. They clay is unruly. During nice hot days it becomes dry and very hard, as hard and as smooth as pavement. Motorists take advantage of the clear roads and tend to speed very quickly along them. When the rain comes, it softens the roads, and makes them oily slick. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and people slip and slide on them, so transportation and movement almost comes to a standstill until the rain has past. All the small roads, the ones made of clay, eventually lead to the paved road, unless you are heading in the complete opposite direction. So, they paved road is heavily, heavily used. Everyone on this road is headed in one or the other direction, so industry and business reflect the frequency. Taxis make a business of travelling the one road, there are gas stations one after the other along it, and, consequently, it shows deep degradation. It hasn’t been long, I’m told that it’s about five or six years old, but already it’s riddled with pot holes and crumbling shoulders. I’ve never seen any workers repairing the road, in order to make it smoother and safe. Drivers, speeding or not, tend to dart around the holes, narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic, pedestrians and bicycles. There are no traffic signs on the roads either. If you were to put a red stop sign at an intersection I suppose one of two things would happen. Drives would completely ignore it, or they would stop and wait for someone to tell them they are allowed to go. Road courtesy, responsible driving and road safety is pretty much non-existent. In order to get traffic to slow down near towns are busy intersections, sets of speed bumps appear at intervals (without signs). My host, Laban, never fills up his tank, because there are gas stations every few kilometres he gets away with putting a litre here and a litre there into his tank, citing it as a security measure so no one steals his vehicle. He has run out of gas twice since I’ve arrived. I joke with my friend Simon that his security measures work so well even he can’t take his own car. A rule of thumb for me and I suppose everyone else, is to constantly be aware of oncoming vehicles, what-ever their direction in case one has to dodge. When I bring these differences up, they are tough to explain. The people I talk to listen, but I often feel at a loss, describing something that you take for granted, societal structure, laws, etc, are difficult to explain. It’s an entire system, not one or two little things.
The holistic approach explains why the running here is so good. It explains why athletes here are so good, and so many. The stories and myths are true, around the home and between friend’s houses, children run around bare foot. The athletic ability in children here is astounding. They play, they run, they spend all day moving. Their feet are strong and tough, their ankles and legs springy. I’ve seen kids jump barb wire fences past their shoulders like they were skipping over a puddle. Running is also seen here as a legitimate choice for living and a career. Many men (and women) choose to train full time, and seek out support from wealthier retired runners, like my host, clubs, and managers. The obvious environmental factors; elevation, good weather, grassy tracks, big groups, no distractions, etc make this place an incubator. People here, non-runners respect the runners. Cars usually slow down, and when you’re tired you’re left alone to rest. Kenyans in general are proud of their runners and everyone knows this is the place to be.
The guys I train with are my age, regular dudes, laughing and chatting and making fun on runs. They’re tough. One guy, his name is John, has a 2:11 marathoner for a brother. Most of Laban’s younger brothers still run and compete. Everywhere we run they point at this house or that farm, telling me there’s a 61min half marathoner living there, or a 3:35 1500m runner here. Yesterday (Tuesday) we started the ‘program’ where the big groups start training together. Most runners now are preparing for cross, so I’ve just jumped in. We ran a 1.5k loop with sharp turns and slight hills around the grass track and an adjacent field, eating up a fartlek of 2:1, 1:1 and 30:30. Notable runners in the front pack were a world junior steeple chase champion, and a 1:43 800m runner, I understood he ran it in Brussels Diamond League. The altitude is a huge factor on runs. The hills on any type of run are where you feel it the most because the body can’t recover quickly enough for the next hill, or at all really, during the run. The locals recognise it too. I had a good chat with a runner just this morning. Noah, Laban’s younger brother, tells me that no one here can really run under 1:46 or 3:45, it may happen, but very rarely. The conversion for 800 is about 5-6 seconds, the 1500m 10-12 seconds. So, if someone runs 3:50 here at altitude, they can expect to run 3:38-3:40. My good friend Simon has run 3:47 on a dirt track not far from where we train. I’ve concluded that he is indeed a boss. We exchanged massages last night. I got the most painful massage I’ve had in a while, my athletic therapist in Montreal would be proud.
As for my own training things are going well. I’m running a lot, and taking advantage of racing opportunities to put in tempos and hard efforts. I’m not run down, because I nap after my am runs, before lunch, sometimes after lunch, and take it easy before the afternoon runs. Only the hard runs are hard, everyone seems to be on the same page about easy days and tough days, so it’s a big influence in the training. I’ve tripled twice, Monday and Tuesday, today is an easy day, and we’re travelling tomorrow to race Saturday. Everyone will be jumping into an 8k, so I’ll be ‘chasing’ my buds. Every day my recovery is getting better, and I’m handling the easy hilly runs better and better. All good signs. I’m already getting excited for what it means for my summer.